Butler calls for an end to the tyranny of our youth seeking Confirmation of Aboriginality
Brian Butler – Photo, Lateral Love Australia
Brian Butler yesterday posted on Lateral Love Australia the following message calling on the National Congress of Australia’s First People to address a dire situation for our youth:
“I am at my wits end! I have reached my tether at the almost daily request for support from our young Aboriginal and Islander (including the Torres Strait) youth who are continually experiencing rejection from Aboriginal Organisations when they are seeking Confirmation of Aboriginality.
The young people this is happening to are the current children of the stolen generations and their grandchildren.
It must stop Now!
Today I will be placing an AGENDA ITEM to the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples (NCAFP) for immediate action to ensure that all Aboriginal children are, at birth, given their proof of Aboriginality.
This is the only way we will see this practice of control and rejection through lateral violence at the hands of Aboriginal Organisations halted in its tracks.” Brian Butler Anti-Lateral Violence Campaigner
Historian, John McCorquodale, reported that since the time of white settlement, governments have used no less than 67 classifications, descriptions or definitions to determine who is an Aboriginal person (1).
Are Aboriginal Organisations taking this approach too far and in some cases, causing further damage to our own people at our own hand? This would be a form of Lateral Violence – a case of the oppressed doing the oppressing.
In the early 1980s, the Commonwealth Department of Aboriginal Affairs proposed a three-part definition of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person (2). As still remains the current practice, the three pronged approach looks like this; An Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is:
a) a person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent
b) who identifies as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
c) and is accepted as such by the community in which he [or she] lives or has lived.
In addition to the three pronged approach, some Confirmation of Aboriginality applications also request the following:
I do solemnly and sincerely declare that:
- I am a Male/Female person.
- I am known to/approved/identified by a staff/member as being an Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander person.
- I seek a resolution from the Board that the Board accepts my solemn declaration as to Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander identity.
The three pronged approach has long been questioned and labelled as a racist tool in itself and many different perspectives are held across the country regarding its effectiveness.
I agree that Aboriginality needs to be confirmed in a way that ensures our kinship ties are legitimate and honourable because I am sure many readers will be aware of the cases out there – the many people who gain proof of Aboriginality when they are not ‘Aboriginal’ at all, for the sole purpose of fraudulently benefiting from the ‘Aboriginal Industry.’ These individuals should be ashamed of themselves.
But for the people Brian Butler is talking about, the members of the Stolen Generation, their children and their grandchildren, this activity continues to cause distress and anxiety, further traumatising the families that have already been torn apart by the cultural annihilation policies of child removal and assimilation.
One young woman I spoke with recently explained her ongoing predicament to me, “my father was Aboriginal but my mother wasn’t, they had a fling and that’s how I got here. Dad was taken from his family at a few months of age but he was lucky and he found his way back home as a teenager. He was well known and respected in his community but because of the way I was born, his family didn’t know about me. They just didn’t know that I existed until I was almost grown up.
Dad stayed in contact with me though. He visited me a lot and I attempted to go back to country three times to try and get to know my Dad’s family but the whole community ignored me from the moment I got there. I even look like my Dad and his sisters but they didn’t want to believe that I was his. That hurt cuts deeper now because both my mother and father have passed away and on top of that I can’t get proof of my heritage and kinship ties even though they know I belong to my father because he told them well before he died.” Name Withheld.
This young Aboriginal woman was visibly distressed talking to me about her situation. She still has had no resolution for her particular case, which is not a rare occurrence and in fact it is all too common.
She was adamant at remaining anonymous for her own safety due to the constant lateral violence experienced from members of her father’s community – for all intents and purposes, HER own family. A family she should well be feeling nurtured and consoled by during her times of loss and grieving, as her birth right. Instead this young woman continues to face exclusion, isolation and sometimes outright violence.
How many suicides have occurred due to this type of lateral violence? How many more must we endure before this shameful practice ceases?
Proof of Identity (POI) and Confirmation of Aboriginality (COA) will always be a sensitive and contentious issues but does it have to be this way?
Why did Australia “vote yes to the Aborigine” during the 1967 referendum?
It is up to us all, as a unified people, to decide if we will continue to pour further salt into the wounds dealt to us at the hands of the colonisers, or whether we will work together to seek better solutions to these demoralising situations.
I know which one I will be choosing.
1) See Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, National Report (1991), Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra [11.12.5].
2) Department of Aboriginal Affairs, Report on a Review of the Administration of the Working Definition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (1981), Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, cited in J Gardiner-Garden, The Definition of Aboriginality: Research Note 18, 2000–01 (2000) Parliament of Australia, 2.